Prospects pitching in for youth baseball
SUMMERVILLE — Sometime in the near future, any of a few dozen young baseball players might read a baseball boxscore and see the name of a guy who helped them learn to pitch.
Several major league pitching prospects have discovered that Summerville offers the perfect off-season training while they keep busy teaching youth baseball players proper pitching mechanics.
New York Yankees prospect Steven Jackson, former Charleston RiverDog Jeff Ridgway and Atlanta Braves prospect Ryan Basner are near the end of teaching a six-week training session at a Summerville baseball facility and are one month away from starting spring training in Florida.
"It's great to work with the kids in Summerville and from all over," said Jackson, who pitched for Summerville High School and Clemson. "I love baseball to death. I especially love this because hopefully I can help them out and have a career like I have."
The core reason the three minor league pitchers have come together is former Charleston Southern pitcher Stan Kowal-ski, who has owned and operated Pro Level Sports since 2001. Kowalski has met each of them over the years and asked them to be a part of his training sessions.
"The biggest thing it does, it shows the kids that these guys are everyday people and if they work hard, they can do what they've done," Kowalski said. "It also
validates what we're teaching throughout the year."
Jackson, 25, has taken lessons from Kowalski since the age of 13 and has been invited to participate in the Yankees' big league camp this year. In addition to feeling like he's giving back to his community, Jackson said teaching younger players has been a great way to stay sharp during the offseason.
"You can't quit doing something for two months and expect to pick right back up," he said. "It really helps me, especially with the younger kids because I have to really think about the basics. On my level, it's so complicated at times that it's great to work with the kids. It's pitching and catching. It's a lot less complicated than people want to make it."
For Basner, 26, teaching wasn't a foreign concept. His mother owns a sports complex in Philadelphia and he said he's been working with young players for many years.
"When I was coming up, we had professional guys come and help me and now the tables are turned," he said. "I like seeing the improvement and knowing that some day, these guys are going to be in my shoes. You hope at some point, you helped them."
Basner, who pitched at Western Carolina, might be putting down roots in the Lowcountry. His agent knew Kowalski and the two met two years ago while Basner was looking for a place to work out. A car accident impeded his workouts, but while here Kowalski introduced Basner to a friend of his wife.
"We're going to be married in October," he said.
Ridgway made his major league debut last September as a reliever with the Tampa Devil Rays and was traded last week into the Atlanta Braves organization. He met his wife, Kelli, while playing two seasons for the Charleston RiverDogs, and he enjoyed the area enough to consider making this his home.
"Right away, from day one, I knew this could be a place I could live," he said. "I spent much of my career here. Everything about downtown and Joe Riley Park is classy. I would rate it in the top five of all of minor league baseball."
Ridgway, 27, said teaching the game was not in his plan, but something he's fallen into.
"I knew I'd play baseball until they took it away from me. I didn't realize all the outlets I had available to me through baseball," he said.
"It's gratifying to me to see the progression of the kids. I like to see kids who are that motivated to learn. When these kids get to their tryouts, they're going to be miles ahead of the ones who have done nothing."